Study Will Test Oral Health Intervention Involving Caregivers in New York and North Carolina

Senior couple brushing their teeth

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and National Institute on Aging, both part of the National Institutes of Health, have awarded the NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing with funding to improve the oral hygiene of people with mild dementia. The $3.47 million, five-year grant will be used to implement and study a unique oral health intervention involving family caregivers in New York and North Carolina.

Bei Wu from NYU Meyers is the contact principal investigator of the project. The other two co-principal investigators are Brenda Plassman from Duke Health and Ruth Anderson from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

People with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, have significantly poorer oral health than do other older adults, including more plaque, more cavities, severe gum disease, and fewer teeth. Even individuals with mild dementia are at higher risk of poor oral health, and research suggests that inadequate oral hygiene practices are a major contributing factor.

Good oral hygiene—particularly routine tooth brushing and flossing—is a critical step in preventing the deterioration of oral health and general overall health for people with dementia. A few studies conducted in nursing homes have shown that with good oral hygiene, the oral health of people with dementia improves notably in a short period of time.

People with mild dementia often live at home and are cared for by family members, who supervise and help with daily activities, but often neglect oral hygiene. An intervention that incorporates both people with mild dementia and their caregivers to improve oral self-care could have long term oral health benefits for people with dementia.

Using results from a pilot study, the researchers developed an intervention to help family caregivers guide people with mild dementia in carrying out oral hygiene. The intervention is designed to work with the caregiver and individual with mild dementia to identify challenges in oral care, help them learn to solve them, and improve the ability of the person with dementia to engage in effective oral care.

“To our knowledge, this is the first oral health intervention to be conducted among community-dwelling people with mild dementia, and the results of our pilot study suggest that a caregiver-assisted intervention can improve oral health outcomes,” said Wu, the Dean’s Professor in Global Health at NYU Meyers and co-director of NYU Aging Incubator.

“Introducing an intervention when dementia is still mild is ideal, because people with mild dementia still have the ability to perform oral hygiene tasks with minimal assistance,” said Plassman, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke Health.

Through this new NIH funding, the research team will conduct a randomized control trial in New York City and North Carolina to test the oral health intervention. In addition to measuring whether the intervention improves oral hygiene, the researchers will also look at communication between people with dementia and their caregivers and will assess their oral health knowledge and confidence in their ability to improve their oral health.

“The team views the caregiver as a leader, guiding the individuals with mild dementia to maintain their independence in completing daily activities,” said Anderson, associate dean for research at UNC-Chapel Hill School of Nursing.

The research is funded under grant number U01DE027512-01.

About NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing (@NYUNursing)
NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing is a global leader in nursing and health. Founded in 1932, the College offers BS, MS, DNP, and PhD degree programs providing the educational foundation to prepare the next generation of nursing leaders and researchers. NYU Meyers has three programs ranked in the top 10 by U.S. News & World Report and is among the top 10 nursing schools receiving NIH funding, thanks to its research mission and commitment to innovative approaches to healthcare worldwide.

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